Who are Mennonites?

Mennonites have their origins in the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s when a group of Radical Reformers believed Martin Luther’s reforms of the church did not go far enough. In particular they advocated voluntary adult baptism and in the context of intense persecution came to hold a belief in pacifism and separation from the world. Two major streams of Anabaptists emerged from the original Swiss Radical Reformers. The Swiss-South German Anabaptists migrated to the Palatinate and then to America in the 18th century.

A photograph of a painting, published in Ludwig Bechstein's Zweihundert Bildnisse und Lebensbeschreibungen berühmter deutscher Männer, published in 1857. Image credit: Wikipedia Commons

A likeness of Menno Simons, published in Ludwig Bechstein’s Zweihundert Bildnisse und Lebensbeschreibungen berühmter deutscher Männer (1854). Image credit: Wikipedia Commons

In the Netherlands Anabaptists became known as Mennonites, named after the former Dutch priest and leader, Menno Simons. The Dutch-North German Mennonites migrated to the Vistula Delta in Poland in the 16th and 17th centuries where Mennonites developed unique cultural practices and a distinctive Low German dialect. In the 18th century Mennonites from the Vistula Delta migrated to Imperial Russia where they established thriving colonies on the Ukrainian steppes.

When threatened with the loss of military exemption in the 1870s Mennonites from Russia migrated again, settling on the prairies of Manitoba and Great Plains of the United States. Then after World War I significant numbers left Manitoba and Saskatchewan for Mexico and Paraguay where they again established agricultural colonies. In the 20th century these migrants have spread throughout Latin and South America, establishing large colonies in new settlement areas in Mexico, Belize, Bolivia, and Argentina.

For the Dutch-North German Mennonites in particular, each new migration left some behind, giving rise to secondary migrations, return migrations, and a diaspora of scattered groups of Mennonites throughout North and South America, Germany, and a remnant on the steppes of Siberia.

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